A recent study reveals a strong link between living in privately rented homes and accelerated biological ageing, surpassing the ageing impact of obesity and trailing behind smoking.
The Research Findings
The study, conducted by the University of Essex and the University of Adelaide, involved 1,420 UK households. It found that tenure in privately rented homes was associated with twice the ageing effect of obesity and half that of smoking. This suggests that housing circumstances can have significant health consequences, leading to faster biological ageing.
Methylation and Biological Ageing
The study monitored a process called methylation in participants from the UK Household Longitudinal Survey, which is regarded as a fundamental mechanism driving human ageing. It discovered that falling into arrears repeatedly and exposure to pollution were also linked to accelerated biological ageing, irrespective of actual age.
Growing Privately Rented Sector in the UK
Currently, around 5 million households in the UK reside in privately rented accommodation, a figure that has doubled in the last two decades. This sector is known for higher costs, worse living conditions, and less secure tenure compared to owner-occupied or socially rented housing.
Clinical Implications and Policy Considerations
The study concluded that the link between tenure and accelerated ageing, at nearly half the rate of smoking and twice that of obesity, may have clinical significance. Policies aimed at reducing the stress and uncertainty associated with private renting, such as ending no-fault evictions, limiting rent increases, and improving living conditions, could mitigate these negative impacts.
Observational Study and Reversibility
Since this was an observational study, it couldn’t determine the exact cause of the relationship between housing tenure and biological ageing. Additionally, the analysed DNA samples were exclusively from white, European householders. Nevertheless, the study suggests that the biological ageing process is reversible, and improvements in housing conditions could rectify this issue.
Social Renting Comparison
Surprisingly, despite social renting sometimes being stigmatized, it was not found to differ from outright ownership concerning its association with biological ageing. Social renting often offers lower costs and more secure tenure than private renting.
Challenges in Private Rented Housing
Private renters typically face more challenging living conditions, dealing with problems like cold, dampness, and disrepair. The 2021 English Housing Survey revealed that 23% of private rented homes did not meet the Decent Home Standard, compared to 13% of owner-occupied and 10% of social-rented homes.
Policy Implications and Urgency
Reacting to the study, Dan Wilson Craw, the Deputy Chief Executive of the campaign group Generation Rent, emphasized the importance of housing to health. He stressed that private renters, who often experience the threat of eviction and live in subpar housing conditions, are particularly vulnerable to poor health. As more older people have no option but to rent, policymakers need to act urgently to address these issues.